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Iowa Public Sector Employees Prepare for Certification Votes

The certification votes will be conducted online or on a a compter or mobile device.

About 30 people attended an informational meeting in Fort Madison Tuesday afternoon that was organized by the Iowa Public Employment Relations Board (PERB). Representatives of PERB have been traveling the state ahead of hundreds of upcoming certification votes for public sector bargaining units.

Board Member Mary Gannon said the certification votes are a requirement of House File 291, which passed the Iowa Legislature this year. She said it is creating a new world for public sector unions in the state.

Gannon said the law requires that a public sector union conduct a certification vote ten months prior to its current employment contract expiring.

If members certify the union, nothing changes. If the union is decertified, the union’s contract with their employer is null and void.

“The reason for that is because the contract is between the union and the employer,” said Gannon. “Many people don’t understand that, how the contract can be over, even though you have ten months left in that contract. But it’s because that contract isn’t between the employees and the management, the contract is between the union and the employer.”

Gannon added that if a union decertifies, a re-certification vote cannot be held for two years. And she said that if a union negotiates annual one-year contracts with its employer, the union will have to conduct annual certification elections.

The certification election is already underway for 13 public sector unions, including the Danville Education Association. The ballots will be counted by hand on September 26 when voting concludes.

Gannon said the action will pick up in October when more than 450 public sector unions hold their certification votes between Oct. 10-24. The list includes the teachers’ unions in Keokuk, Fort Madison, and Burlington, five unions representing Fort Madison’s city workers, and two unions in Lee County.

"We expect to see quite a few challenges (to the voting results),” said Gannon. “We don’t know what they are going to look like, but we anticipate quite a few challenges, whether it be over voting or be over behavior, we don’t know what it will be over.”

The October elections will be tabulated electronically by a firm out of California. Gannon said the new state law also requires a different method for counting ballots during a certification vote. She said in the past, a blank ballot did not harm either side. But that's not the case anymore. 

“Failure to vote counts as a no vote,” said Gannon. “So those people who don’t vote in the elections, it’s really cast as a no vote.”

Gannon told members of the crowd that if they run into challenges along the way, to contact PERB to see what can be done to resolve it.

Jason Parrott is a former reporter at Tri States Public Radio.